A “One-State” Solution for Israel/Palestine?

The Israel/Palestine question splits neatly along left/right lines. The rights and wrongs of this conflict are characterised by grievance-mongering from the supporters of either side. For the left, it’s axiomatic that Israel is an aggressive, invasive, occupying power, and an outpost of the American Imperium, guilty of war-crimes and even genocide. For the right, the Palestinians are terrorists, who’re using their own people as human shields while Israel stands as a doughty democracy floating in a sea of ignorance and tyranny.

Were I brought up in Israel, or on the West Bank, no doubt I would think differently. But it is the role of the outsider, without a dog in the fight, to try to cut through the issues and seek to understand why people act as they do, rather than counting dead babies to score cheap political points.

You’ll often see the following graphic:

Which is designed to show that Israel is an aggressive, imperial coloniser. But this is a wildly dishonest picture, for a whole number of reasons. Palestine in 1946, had a bit of Jewish OWNED land in a British-run mandate territory called Palestine. The second picture, takes the whole state of Israel post independence as “Jewish” despite the significant (about 20%) Arab population, who can and do own land in Israel. That’s before you take into account the enormous migration into Palestine which coincided with widespread Jewish settlement of the Palestinian mandate, and the consequent economic opportunities as the desert bloomed. The Third picture is the Israel borders Israel was prepared to accept, but which Arab countries weren’t, and who sought to push Israel into the sea. The Arabs have never recovered from the humiliations of having the combined might of the Arab world have its arse handed to it on a plate in 1st Arab Israeli war in 1948, 6-day war in 1967, and again in the Yom-Kippur war of 1973. The settlements in the Palestinian west bank, the wall, and so forth have been effectively annexed since in a half-century of low-level conflict, which, It has to be said, Israel is winning, hands down. It is quite remarkable just how utterly inept the Arabs have been. Because defeating Israel in war, a small nation without natural barriers, with huge internal divisions and few reliable international friends, should be a cake-walk for the hundred million or so neighbouring Arabs.

Palestinians’ paramilitary organisations cannot stand up to Israeli conventional military in a toe-to-toe conventional battle. The Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians show little appetite, and the Iranians know Israel’s (alleged) nukes are pointed at Tehran. So they’ve done what the underdog has done since time-immemorial and fought an asymmetric war. This explains the human shields, the tunnels, the rockets indiscriminately thrown against southern Israel. Their strategy is to provoke an over-reaction from the Israelis, and so cut Israel off from their half-hearted support in the west, and undermine the legitimacy of the entire Israeli state. It is stupid to suggest the Palestinian use of asymmetric tactics is any less “moral” than when used by the Maquis in 1944. War is immoral, and only victory ends it. The Palestinians face a mighty military with what they believe to be the moral high ground, and with near total population buy-in to the struggle. Whatever you think of their beliefs, their beliefs are a fact.

But Israel’s borders in 1967, which they were prepared to accept, as they were in 1948, were militarily indefensible. Given the demonstrated attitude of the Arab world, to treat the west-bank as a foreign, sovereign territory is to invite an invasion from there, which would easily cut Israel in half. The main road along the coast is within artillery range of the West-Bank, from which it would take a tank 30 minutes to drive. So Israel’s military policy, faced with Neighbours who wish to destroy her, requires defence in depth. The West Bank will, while Israel exists, never be independent. Sure, Israel pays lip-service to a two-state solution, even as they strangle and annex the west bank bit by bit. To do anything else would, for the Israelis, be suicide. What is true of the West Bank is equally true of the Golan heights, a strategically vital buffer between Israel and Syria, which helps the Israelis combat the militants of Hizbollah in southern Lebanon. Given the current situation in Syria, I cannot see there being a return of the Golan Heights any time soon.

Most of the criticisms coming from both sides, aimed at either the Palestinians or the Israelis are spurious, or utterly neglect the context of the decisions being made. What is important is what WILL happen, not what should. I cannot see Israel allowing a viable Palestinian state for the reasons outlined above. As they see it, they tried negotiating borders in good faith, and got the 6-day war for their trouble. Israel will therefore create facts on the ground and negotiate around these. And the slow plantation of the west bank is part of that strategy. Gaza is irrelevant. Sinai has been de-militarised, and a weakend, unstable Egypt which in any case has typically been the Arab state least ill-disposed towards Israel, poses Israel no signficant threat. But the rest of the Arab world DOES pose a threat, and to secede their buffer-zones to their east and north
would be for the Israelis to invite annihilation.

Many people see the Israel Palestine situation as though it is Analogous to that in Northern Ireland, and hope that a shiny Democrat president can bang some heads together and forge a deal. This is wishful thinking. Though I deliberately used the term “plantation” for what is happening in the West Bank, it doesn’t mean the solutions which worked in the province will be applicable to Palestine. Equally, charges that Israel is an Apartheid state are ludicrous, and the hope that some Mandela figure can use towering moral authority to create a solution, is likewise a pipe-dream. Moral authority is nothing next to military necessity.

If you want a historical parallel, it’s one that no-one will thank me for. The crusader kingdom of the Holy Land was an expeditionary military outpost of Anglo-French feudalism in the levant, which maintained itself in the face of overwhelming odds for nearly 200 years. I Suspect the Israelis will have more luck than the Kings of Jerusalem.

In my view, the Palestinians are brave, but misguided. They have been lied to about the feasibilities of the “right of return” and they have been used for half a century as human shields by a leadership which is not primarily interested in their well being. Herded into cities that are still ludicrously referred to as “refugee camps” they are denied so much economic opportunity, they have been cruelly used by the Fatah and Hamas alike as bargaining chips. The Israeli response to provocation from Hamas has at times been cruel to the Palestinian people. But the people most often forgotten by everyone are the Arabs citizens of Israel who are the richest, freest and least oppressed Arabs in the middle east. Druze Israelis serve alongside their Jewish compatriots, and the Bedouin have a long tradition of voluntary service in the IDF.  Syrians in the Golan heights are applying for Israeli citizenship in ever-greater numbers. By far the best solution for the Israelis and Palestinians alike would be a secular democracy of Israel/Palestine, encompassing both entities within the borders of the Old Mandate, which can live at peace with its neighbours. Peace is something I don’t think is possible with Palestine still in existence. It will just take some time.

7 replies
  1. Luke
    Luke says:

    You must be the only person ever to write about Israel and Palestine and (until now) get no comments. Well, I couldn't let that happen.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    And as soon as the One State voters elected a Muslim-majority government, all the Jews would start emigrating somewhere else they weren't treated as second-class citizens, nursing an even more deeply embedded sense of lasting grievance.

  3. Dan Fox
    Dan Fox says:

    Hi, Jacakart. So as promised over on FB, some quick thoughts. I think that a single state could maybe have worked as part of the post-WW1 settlements – a Sykes-Picot Plus, if you like – as new(ish) nations were being carved out or cleaved together as the defeated empires retreated. In fact, there's a strong argument that Israel's eventual creation in 1947-49 was essentially delayed secessionism from the Ottomans. Anyway, what passed between, say, Balfour, and 1948 pretty much put paid to that. The Arab riots of the 30s, the waves of Jewish immigration from a persecuting Europe, and eventually the Shoah (which doesn't explain why Israel was created but does explain why it was in 1948). Could a UN-backed confederation have worked in 48? Perhaps. But not for long. Confederations rarely last at all (either everyone thinks its a good idea and heads to federalism; or not, and dissolves the arrangement). The two main groups involved would have been at loggerheads internally with the smaller groups – Christians, Druze, Sephardim perhaps – caught up and pulled apart too. Even if all internal divisions had been healed, the attentions of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, using what divisions remain to never really allow the new nation to establish itself, would lead to it never flourishing. This goes to the heart of the conflict, and is something people don't really intuit: if Israel didn't exist, would we have a lovely, free, secure Palestinian Republic? Nope. We'd basically just have a chess board where the rest of the regions great powers played out their games. This is the great irony of it all: Israel is the first independent state established on that tiny strip land in two millennia or more; without that, there would not be any hope of a Palestinian state at all; while Israel's conflict with the region means for now that there is still no Palestinian state. So can we untangle all that with a single state? I'd say not as the reasons that stood in 48 still stand. It has to be two states. Free Palestine? Absolutely. Get one with every Jewish state.

  4. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Dan, Everything you say is true: David Ben Gurion was warned the Arabs would not be content to be "hewers of wood and bearers of water" for a jewish state. And of course I agree a one-state solution isn't likely. It's just I cannot see a 2 state solution ever being a solution either. There IS common ground between Palestinian and Israeli, it's just that common ground is East Jerusalem.


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